I hate to be a copy cat, but apparently Runtu's blog posts have shaken something loose inside my head. I don't normally dwell on the past and when I talk about my mission it's mostly to entertain people or gross them out. But my mission was a significant personal sacrifice as well as a huge sacrifice for my family. For me, it was a rite of passage to adulthood and it has left its mark on me. Overall it was a positive experience, but it wasn't without its traumas. So, apologies to Runtu, but I feel a need to write some of this down and share. In fact, I've barely been able to sleep over the last couple of nights as memories of my mission have flooded back, triggered by reading Runtu's stories. Our missions mostly overlapped and we had some of the same companions and knew some of the same characters that inhabited that strange place.
My older brother served a mission in Ecuador so when my mission call came to Bolivia I had an idea of what to expect. People congratulated me because everyone knew that missionaries had lots of success finding and baptizing new members in Latin America. But I knew that it meant I'd be living in poverty and getting sick as well as being in danger of being mugged or worse. I'd hoped to go to Japan or Russia, but I definitely didn't want to go to a third world country like Bolivia. As it turned out, it was much worse than I'd even imagined even though some missionaries suffered much more than I did.
For my whole life missions were 2 years duration, but during the recession in the early 1980s the church shortened the duration of the missions to 18 months in order to reduce the economic burden on the missionaries and their families. I was called to serve for 18 months, but at the end of 1984, with less than 6 months left in my mission, the church announced that new mission calls would once again be for 2 years and that all currently serving missionaries had the option to extend their missions another 6 months. I wound up extending my mission for 4 months so that I could get home in time to start the fall 1985 semester at BYU. So I served for 22 months, but I generally round up to 2 years because its easier to say and explain.
I entered the mission field with a strong testimony and a desire to be a good missionary. I wasn't one of those young men who went to get a testimony or to comply with social expectations. I'd grown up in the "mission field" in Iowa so no one other than my family would really have been disappointed or even notice if I'd decided not to go. I'd already finished two years at BYU and during that time I'd read the Book of Mormon through from cover to cover and really believed that it couldn't be an invention of Joseph Smith and therefore it must be true. Based on that conviction I was ready to head out and share the message that God was alive and lead his church through living prophets. In preparation I'd gone out tracting and teaching with the local missionaries in Iowa. When I left to enter the MTC I was willingly leaving behind my schooling, family, friends, and girlfriend in order to do what I believed God wanted me to do. I wouldn't say I was thrilled to be going, but I committed to doing it right and sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and message of hope and good living with the people I taught.
And so a great adventure began that changed me, tempered me, and gave me a wealth of interesting and colorful stories to share for the rest of my life.